TEFL for Newbs: How to Survive Intensives

Oh yeah. Back on the TEFL game after five months off to the day. I left my job in China on 23 April this year. We arrived in Korea on 23 September. It’s been a ride.

It’s great to be exploring a new city. Pusan is killer. We live less than a block away from the Lotte Giants baseball stadium. There is a brand new, Whole Foods-ripoff Home Plus two blocks away. We can be in the mountains in 30 minutes or two of the most famous beaches in the country in 25. Life is sweet.

On weekends.

Weekdays are absolutely rammed with classes. It’s tough. I teach 46 Academic Contact Hours per week at the moment. That’s nine different classes per day. Ten on Thursdays. There aren’t breaks between the classes in the afternoon.

New teachers will protest; But but but but….I’m supposed to have 30 minutes of planning for each 60 minute class period! That’s what my classes for TEFL said! Welcome to the real world, my friends. Planning? Is that what I do while I shove more dissolved caffeine solution(Huxleyan Brand Plus, of course!) down my gullet? Or what I frantically print from Google when my class has already started?

But hey! It’s better than pulling a 13-hour shift every Friday last summer! I’m not working more, I’m just teaching more.

When working TEFL in Asia specifically, there are two dreaded periods of the year. One is Summer. The other, Winter. If you haven’t yet taken a contract in Asia, heed this wizened crone’s warning: Intensives are out to get you and you will suffer during them. It would be unfair to sugarcoat it.

Intensive courses are the extra extra (and sometimes extra extra extra or extra extra extra extra) classes that English academies sell to parents for those times of year when ‘normal’ schools don’t have classes. Almighty English forbid that they let their students actually have a goddamn break sometimes when the schools take a break!

(Side note: I saw ajummas with their own mobile preschool trucks accosting new mothers carrying babies to Home Plus tonight, aggressively selling them their shiny classes with the word “APPLE” all over. These were neonatal babies. The ajummas were poking them pointedly with branded pens, insisting that their particular brand of toddler cram school is worth the probably-ridiculous price. I leave this here to try to help my readers understand what kind of school culture TEFL teachers may find themselves in.)

But there are ways to help yourself when you’ve got 90 million contact hours to teach and only 24 hours in a day. Behold a list of DO and DON’T, to help you newbs survive.


  • Wash your damn hands.
    • Wash them all the time. Use what I call an ‘Ebola Scrub.’ That means you sing Happy Birthday two times while scrubbing with soap. It’s what Ebola nurses did when removing their gowns. Preschoolers warrant this level of disinfection, believe me. If you don’t, you’ll get sick as a fucking dog and you’ll not be allowed to take time off if you live in Korea.
  •  Make boiled ginger.
    • You’ll be able to get ginger all over the world. My Chinese and Korean coworkers swear by it. Cut up the ginger in a rough chop. Boil the ginger for about 20 minutes to 90 minutes (that shit will burn a lot, be careful!). Drink it on a daily basis to support your immune system and invigorate your teaching muscles.
  • Love yourself.
    • Create a small, inexpensive treat that you can get yourself at the end of a hard week. This needs to be $5 or less, local currency. I used to buy myself Christmas Starbucks in the morning before work in 2013. A cheap lipstick. A nice beer. A new pair of socks. Think about this little gift to yourself all week. Use it as a carrot.
  •  Dress professionally.
    • This one is tough, but nececssary. You will be out of your mind with fatigue. you need clothes that support your dreams. Or at least your poise. Or your getting-by-ed-ness. Wear a polo. Wear a jacket. Wear a 1950s inspired skirt. If you look professional, you will feel professional.
  • Get a few go-to games/lesson plans for when you literally have no time.
    • I don’t have time to pee most days. I set my students up with a cunning, “Ok, I want you all to read this passage for two minutes and circle any words you don’t yet know…” and duck out to the john for two seconds, peeing as hard as I can. Y’all teachers know that hard pee. Get some go-to websites. Have some pre-photocopied worksheets. Practice winding up your kiddos and have go-to activities. I may make a list of these later. Just be ready to go. Anytime. Any level. Anywhere. Any amount of supplies. Be a teaching ninja.


  • Be a jerk to your coworkers.
    • You need them. They cover for your sick arse when you are sick. Be friendly. Bring small gifts.
  • Think too much about teaching and learning and philosophy. And about the future.
    • Recognise that this is a temporary stage for both you and the students. Don’t ask how much their parents have paid for the special course. It will invariably make you sick to the stomach. You are here to provide a safe place for these kids. If they happen to pick up some English in the meantime, YAY!
  • Aggrandise your struggle.
    • Do you know any teachers in your home country who don’t work crazy suffering hours?
  • Freak out.
    • Find a way to cry without students knowing. Take long, aggressive walks up Pusan’s hills after work. Take up a combat sport. Channel the existential crisis about, “I have an MA from one of the top four unis in the world in Linguistics, with a dissertation about second languages” into “What colour is this, child?” No one cares what your personal educational background happens to be, and they certainly won’t pay you for it. Be happy that you have a job and find whatever you can cling to to make you marginally happy enough to not freak the fuck out.

Summer course will suck arse. That’s how it is. Follow those tips above and survive your 46 contact hour schedule.

5 thoughts on “TEFL for Newbs: How to Survive Intensives

  1. Sounds intense.. I do about 26 contact hours a week in sevilla. Plus 10 writing. Worked in Bangkok for 9 months that was intense too, how long do you think you can stick it out?

  2. I like your honesty! I feel more TEFL blogs need this to show the reality of people who are looking to get certified! I’m planning on getting certified this summer! I’m doing an 11 week online course for $1400 is that cheap or expensive in the TEFL world?
    Thank you!
    -Alesia’s affordable adventures

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